Mark’s account of the Day of Crucifixion is very precise about the timings and this short paragraph describes what happened between the sixth and ninth hours.
First, there was the cloud.
When the Lord Jesus was born there was brightness at midnight. When He died there was darkness at noon. It can’t have been an eclipse. The dating of the Passover (like Easter) is fixed by the moon, and at such a time an eclipse is an impossibility. In any case, it wouldn’t last for three hours. Better to see the darkness as symbolising Gods hatred and horror at sin, as with one of the plagues in Egypt (Exodus 10:22). The answer to the trick question Which day in history did God see most sin on earth? is the first Good Friday because that was the day when all our iniquities were made to meet on the Lamb of God. No wonder there was the cloud.
Then there was that awful cry.
Psalm 22, describing as it does better than any New Testament passage the agonies of crucifixion and predicting most particularly the sufferings of our Lord, must have been in His mind as He hung on the cross, so it was not by chance that He quoted from it. Yet, every time Jesus quoted the Old Testament it seems to have been for the same reason, namely that He was fulfilling it.
Rabbi Duncan, the great professor at Aberdeen’s Divinity Hall, paused in the middle of his lecture on the atonement and asked his students: Do you know what Calvary was? It was damnation, and He bore it lovingly. Jesus took the curse and the God-forsakeness that I deserve.
Thirdly, the curtain.
There was a second cry, “it is finished” which is a possible translation of the closing words of Psalm 22 – mission accomplished, paid, done it. At that moment a miracle took place. Back inside the city in the innermost shrine of the Temple, that great curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was torn in two from top to bottom. Not from bottom to top – man might have done that -but from top to bottom as only God could do it. That curtain had excluded all – save only the High Priest on the Day of Atonement – from entering the sanctuary where symbolically God lived. With the curtain torn, there was now a way back to God from the dark paths of sin, there was a door that was open so that we may go in. Calvary’s cross is where we begin when we come as sinners to Jesus. Of course, the priests were the first to realise this when they came in for the evening sacrifice. They quickly realised that they were redundant so it is not surprising to read in Acts 6:7 that amongst the first believers there was a large number of priests.
In the light of the events of those three hours there are ultimately only two possible responses. Either we can follow the crowd in uncomprehending mockery (v.36) or we can join the centurion (v.39) in worship and adoration – surely this man was the Son of God.
The author of this exposition, Jonathan Fletcher, is a member of the fulltime ministry team at Emmanuel, Wimbledon, in the diocese of Southwark.